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Beef labelling system
The European Parliament Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Consumer Protection agreed on the 21 March to the EU-wide compulsory identification system for bovine animals and the labelling of beef and beef products. The system is to be introduced by 1 September 2000.
The main aim of the new regulation is to enable consumers to trace the source of the meat they buy right back to the animal. This system should enable any potential threats to human health to be tackled early and effectively. In adopting the report however the committee considerably modified the Commission's proposal.
The proposal lays down general rules for a compulsory system, to be introduced in two separate steps. Two stages are needed because full traceability cannot be ensured until 2003 owing to a delay by Member States in setting up computer databases on the identification and registration of slaughtered cattle. From 1 September 2000, operators and organisations marketing beef must indicate on the label certain information about the meat and the point of slaughter of the animal or animals from which that meat came. The system is to be reinforced from 1 January 2003, when information must be added concerning the origin of the animals, in particular where they were born, reared and slaughtered. Only then will the system be watertight.
The committee felt that there should not be too much information on the label. Consumers would be informed more effectively if labels indicated the Member State or third country of origin, rather than the precise region of origin of the meat, as the Commission had proposed. Regarding imported beef from non-EC countries, it was stressed that the same labelling rules must be applied and, where not all the information was available, a clear indication to that effect should be provided. For third countries which could not provide reliable information, the label should indicate: "Origin: non-EC". As from 1 January 2003, labels should also mention antibiotics and stimulants that might have been administered as well as fattening methods used. Finally, the committee was against derogations from the regulation for minced beef, beef trimmings or cut beef, arguing that this was not in the interest of the public health objectives pursued.
On the 12 April the Parliament voted to endorse the proposals. Among the amendments adopted were:
requirement for labels to simply indicate the member state or third country of origin of the meat, rather than the precise region of origin;
removal of the derogations being proposed for minced beef, beef trimmings and cut beef;
strengthening of the provisions ensuring that the same labelling rules should apply to beef from third countries.
Subsequently, on the 17 April, political agreement at the EU Agriculture Council. Speaking in Luxembourg afterwards Joyce Quin, Minister of Agriculture for England, said:
I am very pleased that the Council has managed to resolve its differences on this complicated dossier. If the resulting text is approved by the European Parliament, as I believe it will be, consumers in the UK can look forward to clearer, more informative labels on the beef they buy. The introduction of compulsory labelling will ensure that beef described as being of British origin is indeed British and that beef of other origin is clearly labelled as such. I know that both consumers and beef producers in the UK will welcome this.
The result of this agreement must now be put to the European Parliament, but there is every likelihood that the new system will come into force on 1 September 2000 as planned.
If the Parliament accepts the Council's conclusions, the first stage of the compulsory scheme can come into effect on 1 September. This will provide for most beef sold to consumers to show the Member State in which it was slaughtered and cut/deboned and the approval numbers of the relevant establishments. The second stage is due to come into force on 1 January 2002 and will require, in addition, that most beef is labelled by reference to its country of origin.
Slightly less rigorous rules will apply to minced beef, but consumers will be informed as of the start of the system of the country in which the meat was minced, and of the country in which the animals from which the meat was derived were slaughtered.